Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo closed the Ministerial Conference to Advance Religious Freedom, on Thursday, held in Washington July 16-18, with the announcement of two important initiatives. 

Since the earliest days of our nation, America has stood for religious freedom. Our first settlers left their homes and all they knew for the chance to, as they said, “Begin the world [all] over again.” They carved protections for religious liberty into the founding charters of our nation and our very earliest laws. And after our independence was won, the crafters of America’s Constitution enshrined religious liberty as the first of our American freedoms,” Pence said.

The vice president added, Americans believe that people should live by the dictates of their conscience, not the diktats of government.

For his part, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo highlighted the remarkable growth of this event in the last two years. 

“It is the largest ministerial meeting on human rights held at the United States Department of State. And with our country now more than 200 years old, it’s the biggest event ever organized by a U.S. Secretary of State, it’s really remarkable,” Pompeo added.

Officials reviewed the state of religious freedom in the world and noted that 83 percent of the world’s population lives in nations where religious freedom is threatened or denied. 

Turning convictions into action

Pompeo said it is time to “turn our convictions into action” and announced two initiatives: 

The first one is the creation of an International Religious Freedom Fund, which will draw on multiple donors and provide rapid assistance to victims of persecution around the world.

It’s already serving good, and its purpose around the world is expanding,” Pompeo said. 

The official revealed that the United States has already donated $340 million to Iraqi religious and ethnic communities especially targeted by ISIS. 

And today, I have the privilege to announce that USAID is providing $27 million in new humanitarian assistance to keep this very progress going,” Pompeo said.

The second initiative is the creation of an International Religious Freedom Alliance.

We hope that this new vehicle—the first ever international body devoted to this specific topic—will build on efforts to date and bring like minded countries together to confront challenges of international religious freedom,” Pompeo explained. 

The secretary of state explained that there are more countries that want to implement similar initiatives such as the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, Albania, Colombia, Morocco, and the Vatican.

Special mention to China

Both officials highlighted the very negative role that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime is playing in terms of religious freedom and referred to China as “home to one of the worst human rights crises of our time. It is truly the stain of the century,” Pompeo said.

The Chinese Communist Party demands control over the lives of the Chinese people and their souls. Chinese government officials have even discouraged other countries from attending this very gathering,” Pompeo said.

If you’re here today and you’re a country, which has defied the Chinese pressure to come here, we salute you and we thank you. And if you have declined to attend for the same reason, we took note,” he warned. 

Pompeo cited the cases of Falun Gong practitioner Chen Huixia and Pastor Wang Yi as examples of religious persecution in China.

In September of last year, Chen Huixia, a member of the Falun Gong, was sentenced to three and a half years in prison simply for practicing his faith.

 The practice of Falun Dafa Yuhua Zhang shaking hands with President Trump (Screenshot of the White House on YouTube)
Yuhua Zhang from the practice of Falun Dafa, shaking hands with President Trump on July 17, 2019. (Screenshot/White House via YouTube)

In May of 2018, authorities arrested Wang Yi, the pastor of Early Rain Covenant Church, a large unregistered church in Chengdu, for openly criticizing the government’s controls on religious freedom. He’s still in jail today,” Pompeo said.

It should be noted that on the second day of the Ministerial Conference to Advance Religious Freedom, July 17, President Donald Trump met with 27 survivors of religious persecution from 17 countries.

Four of them are from China, including Falun Gong practitioner Yuhua Zhang, Uyghur Muslim Uhamur Ilham, Tibetan Buddhist Nyima Lhamo and Christian Manping Ouyang.

Sanctions

Pence revealed that the U.S. government has imposed sanctions on two Iranian-backed militia leaders who have been denying religious freedom inside and outside the country. 

In addition, this week the United States imposed visa sanctions on two Burmese military leaders for the brutal ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya people that has forced more than 700,000 people to flee across the border to Bangladesh.